Of all the vegan-related questions that I get asked repeatedly, I’m always surprised that “why vegan?” is not typically one of them. I’m getting the impression that where I get my protein and what I would eat if I were stranded on a desert island are more concerning issues than why I would stop eating animal products in the first place… (just kidding!) One of the very few times that someone did ask me that question, his exact wording was, “Is it because animals have feelings, too?” It’s hard to give a mature answer when the question is asked in such a childish way.
The truth is, there are so many different reasons why someone would decide to go vegan – ethics, diet/health, environmental impact, family, and personal/spiritual growth, to name a few. The purpose of this post is to shed light onto some of these topics to hopefully give a better understanding of where the decision to become vegan comes from.
(Disclaimer: In general, I try to avoid overly controversial subjects on the blog. Because these topics are the driving force behind why the Cupid’s Landing project exists in the first place, I feel that it is important to address them at least once. I’m not going to go into great detail. I would encourage you to do some research to explore these topics more deeply if you are interested. You may also contact me if you’d like to have a deeper discussion about anything. I am not a healthcare professional. Anything stated here is what I have learned from about 3 years of research. Again, I would encourage you to take a closer look for yourself at any subjects that intrigue you. Lastly, I have included several links to videos and other resources. Please be advised that the videos attached here are graphic and disturbing.)
The most common reason for becoming vegan is for the welfare of the animals. Many people attribute their desire to make a change to documentaries or videos that show what happens to animals raised for food, clothing, science, or entertainment. It’s no secret that most animals in these scenarios are treated very poorly. In can be hard to open our eyes and face the truth about this because: A) it’s extremely painful to watch, and B) standing up to this injustice requires most of us to make changes to parts of our lives that are so deeply rooted, things that we do not want to change. However, regardless of whether or not we open our eyes, that truth still remains and unless we do something about it, the suffering will perpetuate. A great deal of this suffering takes place on factory farms. From the ASPCA website, “A factory farm is a large, industrial operation that raises large numbers of animals for food. Over 99% of farm animals in the U.S. are raised in factory farms, which focus on profit and efficiency at the expense of animal welfare.” Some examples of things that happen on factory farms are:
- Male chicks are ground up alive or suffocated in bags because they can not lay eggs, and are therefore useless in the egg industry.
- Chicks that are not ground up or suffocated have the tips of their beaks burned off without anesthetic.
- Chickens are packed into cages so tightly that they can barely move, and they live their entire lives that way.
- Piglets are castrated without anesthetic.
- Like all mammals, cows only produce milk after they give birth. Calves are ripped from their mothers either immediately after birth or shortly after. Male calves are slaughtered for veal, as they have no place in the dairy industry.
- Breeding sows (mother pigs) spend their whole lives in cages that are so small they cannot stand up. Their job is to lay there and breastfeed their babies until the babies are taken away. They and their babies are horrifically abused by workers (sadly, not isolated incidents.)
The question that always follows conversations about the ethical issues of factory farming is something along the lines of, “What about small farms where the animals are treated well?” I will address that question in a different post dedicated to FAQ’s of veganism.
Did you know that veganism extends beyond the realm of diet, and reaches out into other areas like fashion, entertainment, and science? Many ethical vegans will avoid clothing and cosmetics that are made with animal byproducts, and/or are tested on animals in laboratories. This sounds difficult at first, but it’s actually very easy now that cosmetics, toiletries, and household products are labeled as “vegan” and “cruelty free.” Not to mention that clothing and shoes made from all man-made materials are less expensive than leather and fur. Vivisection is the term used for animal testing in labs. It is the stuff that horror movies like Saw and Hostel are made of. If you think you’re ready to face this gruesome side of things, I would recommend watching the documentary Earthlings. Warning – it is extremely raw and graphic, but sadly extremely real. An easier to swallow but equally as good documentary that I would recommend is Vegucated. Diet for a New America by John Robbins is a great book to read about this subject.
The next most common reason for becoming vegan is for the health benefits. As stated in the disclaimer, I am not a health care professional nor do I have any degrees in science. However, I can relay what I have learned in all of my research and personal experience over the last three years (which has included talking to health care professionals and people with degrees in science!) It should come as no surprise that eating a plant based diet is associated with incredible health benefits. When we think of eating healthier, what do we almost always think of? Salads! More fruits and veggies! Nuts and seeds! Studies show that on average, people eating a plant-based diet live longer than those consuming animal products. There is also solid evidence that indicates that acquiring nutrition through plants rather than animals makes us less likely to die from “Western” diseases (i.e. diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and heart disease, the latter being the number one cause of death in Americans.) Also, did you know that bad cholesterol (LDL) only exists in animal products? A plant based diet literally contains zero bad cholesterol! The most comprehensive study done on nutrition as it relates to consuming plants vs. animals is called The China Study. If you’re interested in learning more about this, I would recommend reading that book and/or watching the documentary Forks Over Knives, which is largely based on that study. My personal experience with health improvement following this diet change was in the way I finally got my IBS under control. You can read about that here. I have personally spoken with people who say that switching to a plant based diet helped them get other conditions under control such as asthma, acne, allergies, and arthritis. My friend, Nancy, was diagnosed with arthritis in her early 20’s, and was told that drugs were her only option to control the symptoms. She went vegan almost 40 years ago, and in her own words, healed herself without drugs and instead through diet. At age 50, she climbed Mt. Rainier which is a 14,000 foot stratovolcano located here in western Washington.
Another major influence in persuading towards a vegan lifestyle is the environmental impact animal agriculture has on our planet. This is a subject that many people who are not vegan are unaware of, and it is definitely worth taking the time to understand. I don’t feel comfortable using numbers and percentages here as I have not done the proper research to make claims about exact figures. What I can tell you is that animal agriculture is a major source of methane and greenhouse gas emissions, and uses an incredible amount of water (ie, roughly 1,000 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of milk.) Nearly all of the deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest is for the production of beef, whether it be to grow crops that are eventually fed to the cows, or for actual cattle ranching. Cows and pigs eat a whole lot more food than humans do. The amount of plants that are grown to feed cattle could feed an immensely higher amount of people than the amount of meat that comes from it. Commercial fishing is a major cause of destruction of the coral reef, and kills quite a lot aquatic plant and animal life that is accidentally caught in nets, never intended for food. An excellent source of info on the environmental impact of animal agriculture is the documentary Cowspiracy.
Many people decide to go vegan when they make the connection between farm animals and their own pets. Others do it when a family member goes vegan or vegetarian in an attempt to show support, and then they end up finding themselves in the process. Some people have epiphanies after a profound life changing experience, and they move forward wanting to put out as much good (and as little harm) into the world as possible. The one thing all of these reasons have in common, and ultimately amount to, is the desire to make a positive change. Whether that be a change for oneself, for the planet, for the people, or for the animals, it is motivated by positivity, and it’s end goal is only to promote goodness. Remember, it doesn’t take a perfect vegan to have a major impact. Reducing your use and consumption of animal products is a great step in the right direction, and it’s something we can all do.